Jane Attwater, Bratton, to Mary Steele, Broughton, [Thursday] 27 October 1774.
Bratton Octr 27 1774
The tender anxiety my dearest Friend you express for your unworthy Myrtilla claims my more yn grateful acknowledgements I know not how to speak half ye pleasure I feel in knowing I possess ye Friendship of such a Friend. Your worth still is heightened & I can truly say ye more I know the more I love. It gives me pain to think of your uneasyness for me & how is it increased by ye sense I have of the unworthiness of ye object of your concern. Did my Silvia know even but as well as I know myself I believe her partiality (great as I think it to be) would not look over ye numberless faults wch would yn appear but too conspicious a Large part in the affection of her for whom my heart tells [paper torn] it feels the sincerest Gratitude & ye tenderest Friendship.
[My] health after wch you so kindly inquire is I assure you perfectly [paper torn] established some time back I was not so well occasioned by taking cold which was attended with an almost continual headach but thro’ divine goodness I have now ye greatest reason to be thankful as I injoy perfect health & am ^freed^ from yt anxiety of mind wch of late I own I was too much oppresed with. I hope I in some measure saw my Error in giving way to it for by all my prying into futurity I saw I could not alter one thing yt was appointed for me or by any means know what was best for myself or others & still wt added weight to my reasonings was ye absurdity of such conduct [paper torn] concerning myself about what perhaps may never come to pass & if it did yet not to me knowing also yt there is an over ruling providence in all things wch acts in Infinite wisdom – I hope a consideration of those things has in a measure calm’d my mind & excited a chearful confidence in divine mercy as to all present or future Events. I hope my desire is to commit my ways unto God & I have yn ye promise yt he will direct anyways – I wou’d wish to say with our dear Theodosia in her Excellent hymn intitled “The Mysteries of Providence” – wch of late I have read with peculiar pleasure.
I have been highly favour’d of late. I think I told you I heard Mr Francis at Trowbridge, he has since been here. Mr Evans Senr was here last Sabbath day he baptized 5 persons 2 of whom were Mr & Miss Ballard. He gave us two Excellent sermons ye first from Mark ye 3d pt of ye 15th verse viz & Suffer it to be sorrow for thus it becometh us to fulfil all Righteousness. I think every unprejudiced mind must own his arguments to be strictly agreeable to divine record & convincing – in ye afternoon pchd fm Acts ye 2nd & 42nd – texts quite suitable to ye occasion – Wednesday preached Mr Whitakers annual sermon it so cal’d as its preachd on ye anniversary day that first he began to keep school. This text was Provs ye 2nd & 5th verses ‘Yea” &c how greatly do I admire yt worthy good man Mr Evans junr he told us was well – In ye evening Mr Francis gave us a most striking discourse from ye same text as at Trowbridge wch I heard from “Examine yourselves” how needful is this exhortation may my heart attend to it for unless I am a doer it avails nothing to be a hearer of ye word. Those priviledges wch I now injoy will only aggravate my condemnation. May divine grace prevent my fears & make all tend to make me to grow in grace & in the knowledge of Jesus Christ whom to know is life eternal. This [is ye] true knowledge wch is superior to all other. Be this my pursuit & [to this] End may I attain a perfect possession of it & injoy ye glorious Effects produced by it.
As my dear & hond Friend lately said tis a great thing for in his own words, he says, “My very dear young Friend to be a True Christian is a great thing – and to conduct ourselves as strangers & pilgrims upon Earth – & look upon Eternity as our home – the thought of Eternity will drown 70 80 or 100 years out of sight – & yet in this short period we are through grace made meet for Heaven.” – What are all the titles Earth can bestow wn compard with yt of ye True Christian they are not worthy to be mentioned. May I but deserve that name in its full [extent] & my highest wish is gratified. How amiable how honourable as well as advantageous is it – how much is contain’d in it – to be a Christian is to be every thing yt is amiable that is praiseworthy – it is a narrow but straight path wch leads to Eternal Life & tho’ there are but few yt find it yet my beloved Friend may you & your unworthy Myrtilla be of that happy Number – to be led & guided into all truths fitted & last enter into the perfect joy of our Lord through ye alone Intercessor who Intercedes at ye Right [hand] of God. O could I say with hope well ground[ed] who pleads for me as your dear Aunt has most fully express’d so ^I would^ wish to say “Jesus, to thee I breathe my prayer Reveal confirm my Interest there Whate’er my humble lot below This this my Soul desires to know.”
Octr 31st I intended to have finished this before but was prevented Yesterday we had Mr Collins here he pchd 2 sermons from those words viz “Mighty to Save” – he has some peculiarities in his manner as in making many Introductions &c but on ye whole I think him greatly improved. He drank coffee ^sup’d^ & spent ye Evening with us. He was quite free and agreeable in conversation & would you think it? Talk’d much ^from him^ to me. Don’t you think I am honoured! I really like him better yn ever – Mr Cater & Mr Jeffery Whitaker & another Gent whose name I dont know drank tea with us but did not stay ye Evening – wt you mention concerning ye Quaker is quite out of ye common way. I have something similar to tell you. I was sometime since at Westbury where was a woman yt preaches. I made some little enquiry about her ^such as^ whether her doctrine was good whether she did pch by practice as well as precepts &c ^to^ all wch I was answered in ye affirmative. So my curiosity led me to go to ye place of her abode to see her. I went & found her agreeable in her person, in her conversation Instructing & pleasing – had some little account of her life &c. Her name is Elizabeth Mitford. Her mother came from Edinburgh was a woman of a good family & some fortune [married] a man who proved to be wild & soon reduced her to poverty. She [came] to live with Dr Stennett. Lived with him 3 years in wch time she was join’d to ye [church] under Mr Stevens pastoral care – her husband found her claim’d her as his & insisted on her living with him. She laid her case before ye church. After his promised Reformation they advised her to live with him wch she did & he again reduced her to abject poverty. She then took her young Child (wch is the aforesaid preacher) & set out for her native place Edinburgh. She was taken ill on ye road & after ye expiration of 6 or 7 weeks died leaving her child to providence. She was by some means wt I know not bred up about 12 years of age she was taken into Mr Whitfield’s Society. She is now about 21 & has preached in publick about 2 years – She is not a Quaker. I told her I should have been glad to have heard her but she began too late to admit of my staying yt Eve. She very obligingly told me she would have began sooner had she known of my coming but hoped if I now staid my Labour would not have been quite in vain – She appears [diffident] & humble, spoke of ye lawfulness of womans speaking &c however my curiosity would have led me to hear her was I perfectly assured of her deserving a good character. Some bad things have been reported of her. I know not whether they are authentic or not if they are she must be bad indeed but as we must make some allowances for scandal prejudice envy &c I know not wt to say only those reports has kept me fm accepting Mr & Miss Guestfords invitation to come & hear her. They say she has an Excellent gift in prayer.
Yesterday I recd a letter from my dear cousin he tells me of his being with Mr Twining &c I was quite pleased with his welcome Epistle. I am sorry to hear our dear Myra & her mama is so poorly. I hope she will write soon we join in respectful Compts to all your happy circle in the tenderest commendations of Friendship to our dear Afflicted Theodosia – my love to Lucinda & ye dear little prattlers as to Miss Goddard. Shall I own I am almost – with her I was in hopes she would have hond me with a Letter. I long’d very much to know how your aunt was & how your papa & mama arrived at Broughton but no tidings would the gentle one in all other respects amiable Clarissa send me. Wont you take my part by telling her she should have complied with my request? I think you will my love await her. She will be more kind I hope for ye future –
I have not heard from sister Head since Tuesday last. She with my dear & hond Mother &c was yn well – may a kind providence preserve ym for health & safety. I desire to chearfully confide in yt goodness I have hitherto experienced. O may my Maria be brought safely through the difficult hour. Indeed my dear I cannot express ye distress I was in ye day I left Bradford if you knew it you wou’d pity me but why do I say so I have your tenderest sympathy. You can sympathize for your heart is apt to feel to melt in tenderness at others woe – O may the alwise disposer of Events in mercy preserve each of my dear Friends & long prolong their valued lives. May sincere gratitude for every fresh mercy be implanted in every heart & we all inabled to live to ye praise & glory of ye bounteous donor – Serve praise & adore ye God of all our mercies thro’ Life & be fitted & at last meet in ye blissful regions above where ye absence of one blessing shall not imbitter those we possess but where a full perfection of immortal happiness forever resides is ye prayer of my dearest Silvia your ever Affecte
Sister joins me in ye sincerest affection for my amiable Friend. I have many things to say but see my paper will not admit of it were it not for my Silvias partiality I should think I have allready said enough to tire your patience be you to excuse it I cannot express my Gratitude for your last welcome favour may I look for a letter soon after you come home
Text: Attwater Papers, acc. 76, II.B.2.(e.). Postmark: Devizes. Address: Miss Steele / Broughton / near Stockbridge / Hants; for an annotated edition of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 257-60. Miss Mitford, who originated among the Particular Baptists of London, moved into one of Whitefield’s Societies before becoming a Methodist preacher at the age of twenty-one. By the mid-1760s, Sarah Crosby (1729-1804) and Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815) had gained John Wesley’s approval to preach before men as well as women; many others, like Mitford, followed their example, but their exact numbers are not known. Beginning in the early part of the nineteenth century, however, the Methodist Conference began to restrict women preachers to audiences of their own sex.